Sunday, December 30, 2007

A letter to the editor of the MJS editorial page....(copy to Jack Norman)


Your editorial page, and the extent to which it has become amateur hour, is simply one more reason to no longer pay for a subscription. I read parts of the paper on line, but that's as far as I am willing to go.

Your community columnist, Barbara Fischer, self-described as a conservative economics teacher at a liberal arts college, doesn't warrant her "case". She has a seriously bent notion of what constitutes profit in a business.

She describes her faux-Socratic method of inducing truth and wisdom through cagey construction of questions posed to students. She also describes how she morphs into a dogmatist --answering the question before the students get a chance to be drawn out with further useful, clarifying questions. In the end she appears to have them chanting the same answer to every question. I'm not certain what she's describing; but it isn't education. Sounds like a madrassa. Here's her quote on how she gets it rolling:
"And how does the company have the means with which to pay you?"

The student replies, "I guess from their profits."

I respond, "That is correct."

That is, quite clearly, not correct. Employee wages are part of the cost of goods sold. That is deemed an expense. It is not derived from "profit". It is not taxed. Don't talk to me about payroll taxes. I'm almost certain that your perfesser hates them, too. But that's not what she is asserting with "That is correct". She's saying that employers/companies pay their employees out of profits.

A college level economics teacher (and Department Chairperson of the the Business/Economics Dept. at Cardinal Stritch University, according to information I googled up) who proudly displays that level of definitional and practical ignorance about what constitutes the portion of corporate revenue subject (if you happen to be one of the "little people" in the world of profits) to taxation ought to pack it in--as economist, as columnist, as animal rationis capax.

I actually believe I could make a good and workable case for completely abolishing corporate income taxes, though I wouldn't expect Fischer to second the motion As it stands now this class of taxation is so subject to the construction of backdoor finagling, and bizarre exemptions purchased from compliant legislators, it is indeed an immensely unfair system. Worse, it creates all manner of distortions of business practices that are designed not for any genuine business objective or efficiency, but merely as ways of shielding corporate profits from taxation.

Throughout the rest of the industrial world, a Value Added Tax (VAT) works well and with quintessential simplicity, not to mention even-handedness. That is the kind of thing that a bright and well-informed business economist could be writing on you page. So, why not recruit a well informed economist to write for your page instead of this bizarrely misinformed scribbler, who describes herself in the Cardinal Stritch Faculty list as having a Ph.D.,A.B.D.* degree.

Ph.D. A.B.D., for the untutored, describes an utterly laughable reification. Someone who lists "Ph.D., A.B.D." as a credential will try to persuade you to buy a "Semi-boneless Ham" or a pint of "Fat-Free Half and Half". It is either a ham with a bone in it, or it is boneless. Try to suss out from which half have they leached the butterfat to create something that is not good, not even half-good, not to mention impossible..

Either your columnist has a Ph.D. or she doesn't. That alphabet soup tacked on to the Ph.D. she claims to have, but doesn't have, says that she took a lot of courses, but still can't think straight, nor write with the cogency required to be called, to be a genuine academic, a professor, a Doctor of Philosophy.

Sad to say, this page has gotten increasingly ragged since your arrival; and seems to be getting even worse, now that they bought you a hotshot deputy from the outside -- one who looks to be getting vetted for a takeover. Back when Jean Otto had Op-Ed, she talked of how the schemers and bean counters often finagled to steal a quarter of the Op-Ed page for ads, how she had to fight for the turf. It's worse for you; my guess is that the ad people don't think there's currently enough readership. Or their clients who want good placement (next to Brett) aren't interested in the demographics of the editorial page and op ed, won't pay for readers who don't move their lips. Thus, you get lots of space to fill up with community columnists. It's like reality TV--you don't have to pay the "talent".

Just some pushback from a forty-year watcher of (used to be one who looked forward to the arrival of) the Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Sentinel. It has become way less than the sum of its parts.

This isn't for the paper, it's for the editor. (And Jack--who should have turned out the lights when he left 4th and State--because B.F., PhD., A.B.D. clearly had his recent work in mind as she scribbled that nonsense).

* A.B.D.= All But Dissertation

Monday, December 24, 2007

Oscar Peterson 1924-2007

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I only heard/saw Oscar Peterson live once. Norman Granz brought Jazz at the Philharmonic to the cavernous barn called the the Cleveland Auditorium in the spring of 1967, the first (and, ultimately, last in the U.S.) JATP tour since 1957. I had a student in sophomore English whose father had been one of the DJ heirs to Alan Freed, when he left WJW Radio in 1958 for New York City. (Oooohhh, the loss: No more Moondog late at night, listened to in bed with a tiny transistor radio).

The kid had picked up that I was into jazz; he told me that he could get me one of his dad's comps. It wasn't all that hard a ticket to get; the hall wasn't full. But I was in the third row. The lineup was incredible: Duke, Ella, Oscar, Clark Terry, Joe Pass, Cootie Williams, Gerry Mulligan, Zoot Sims...on and on. Ellington introduced Oscar with that sobriquet he clearly loved to deliver: "The ever cool and aloof, Oscar Peterson".

I have never been to a rock concert. I've only been to one great concert. Oscar played two numbers solo that night, then accompanied Ella Fitzgerald's set, including an extraordinary "conversation"-- Ella laying down her sass in scat, he pressing the issue with that incomparable playing.


Thanks again to that sophomore and his dad.

Thanks, many thanks, to Oscar Peterson--the greatest jazz pianist of the 20th Century.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Yes, last post I referred to him as a clown. But, he's pitch-perfect in analyzing the GOP Main Line.....

A campaign bus interview with the Christian Broadcast Network yields this:

There is a level of elitism that has existed, the chattering class if you will who lives in that corridor between Washington and Wall Street and they sort of live in their protected world, and frankly for a number of years many of them thought of people like me - whether it was because we were evangelicals or because maybe we were out from the middle of America. They were polite to us. They were more than happy for us to come to the rallies and stand in lines for hours to cheer on the candidates, appreciated us putting up the yard signs, going out and putting out the cards on peoples doors and making phone calls to the phone banks and - really appreciated all of our votes.
But when they got elected, behind closed doors, they would laugh at us and speak with scorn and derision that we were, as one article I think once said "the easily led." So there's been almost this sort of, it's okay if you guys get a seat on the bus, but don't ever think about telling us where the bus is going to go.

Pat Robertson is the founder of this network. He climbed on the Giuliani bandwagon just before Rudy's campaign dove headfirst off the cliff. CBN began running this stone cold disclaimer on a highly visible sidebar every day since the Nov. 9 Robertson endorsement of shagmaster Rudy.

CBN Statement
Pat Robertson as a private citizen has recently endorsed a candidate for public office. As a private citizen he has the right to participate in the political process, and is entitled to express his personal views. CBN, as a public charity, does not support or oppose any candidate for public office, and as a result will not address or comment further on this matter.

Good thing, too. It may not be an endorsement, but the Brody interview and lots of other coverage in this vein will cement the support of "easily-led" evangelicals for the Huckabee line.
* * *

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Spare us from This clown after election day. But his record as a Governor will make for good debate material...

Joe Conason has dug a bit into how Huck-a Huck-a Hunk-a Burnin' Mercy had a thing for granting selective forgiveness played out when he was Governor:

Record Number of Commutations and Pardons...

Influenced by his fellow pastors, as well as by friends and relatives of inmates, Huckabee appears to have practiced what might be called "Christian cronyism."

[Crony]...prisoners seemed to have a special claim on Huckabee's attention, including those who labored as trusty servants at the Governor's Mansion, relatives of Huckabee's friends and employees and, in at least one case, a drunken driver who happened to be a wealthy real estate developer. (In 2003, he began serving a six-year sentence for repeated drunken driving offenses, but Huckabee let the man go after about six months. In 2006, he nearly killed a police officer in yet another drunken driving incident.)

Mercy is a wonderful quality, whether religious or secular. What seems far less wonderful is the dispensation of political favors disguised as religiosity—and that is exactly what the nation's founders meant to forbid.

Read it all here in the Shepherd

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

"Umbrance" and arrogance....

On Nov.14th, at the last meeting of the Waukesha Water Utility Commission, two citizens attended (For me it required getting up before dawn--6:30am--to be there in time to speak up as a ratepayer and resident).

I spoke up. I asked the Commission to stop holding meetings from which the public is excluded on the subject of "water supply options", just as I have asked several times in the past.

The Commission President, Daniel Warren, whose day job is "Development Manager" of Pabst Farms--just in case you're wondering whether the leader of the Utility is somebody who knows a good plan when he sees it--did get a little hot under the collar when it came time to discuss the motion to close the session. He claimed to "feel umbrance" over my questioning his integrity.

The time for public comment was over; I had no standing to speak. So I said nothing.

But, if I'd had the opportunity to speak I would have said this:

"Only one person in this room has ever been cited by the District Attorney of Waukesha for violation of Wisconsin's Open Meetings Law. Cited and FINED in July, 2006, for the offense.
That person is Daniel Warren, President of this Water Utility Commission"

"Umbrance" indeed.

* * *

The Business of the Waukesha Water Utility is the Public’s Business.

Mayor Larry Nelson, in the 19 months he has had the power to appoint four of the five members of the Water Utility Commission (as well as one seat at the table for himself), has been consistent in his replies to questions about what the Commission was planning on the subject of diverting Lake Michigan Water to the City of Waukesha: “No decision has been made. We are exploring all the options. When a direction is chosen it will have to be discussed by the City Council and is subject to their power to approve any plan. That will be the time for public input.”

On Nov. 14th, the Commission met at 7:00 am, a time when most Waukesha adults are either brushing and flossing or heading to work. On the agenda were about twenty items, large and small. Two appeared to be critically important to the public:
1. Approval of the 2008 Water Utility Budget.
2. A plan to evict the public from the room and go into a closed session, “Pursuant to Sec 19.85 (1) (e) & (g), Wisconsin Statutes, to discuss strategy relative to our long term water options, as well as radium compliance, with legal counsel”.

And, indeed, they did vote unanimously to exclude the citizens/ratepayers and meet in secret. Commissioner Greg Zinda: "Aye". Commissioner Alderman Peggy Bull: "Aye". Commissioner Mayor Larry Nelson: "Aye". Commission President Daniel Warren: "Aye". Commissioner Gerald Couri: Absent (again).

So they met. And the public still doesn't know what they're up to. Except, they gave us a hint. More than a hint. Their downtown lawyer from Reinhart Boerner, Don Gallo, hadn't arrived by the time the closed meeting agenda item came up. So, they skipped ahead to a review of budgetary stuff—pages of spreadsheets and detailed budgets for each Utility Department.

Perhaps inadvertently, tucked into seventy pages of figures we found, under a heading called "2008 Significant Budget Items," part of an executive summary provided by the Commission's accountant, Peggy Steeno:
“New Water Supply Investigation/Plan:
Included in this item are the consulting services to continue to assist the Utility with its investigation into a new water supply. The assumptions with this item are that an application for Great Lakes water will be submitted for review in early 2008. This item includes the support necessary to achieve development and approval of the application and initiate the negotiations with a wholesale provider. The current estimate for these services in 2008 is $300,000.”

Diversion of water from Lake Michigan is not something that the public has any information on, nor do the time-lines imply that we will have much to say about it.

It is a done deal. And it appears that it became a done deal through a two-year series of closed meetings: first, among the members of the Water Utility Commission and continuing in a parallel series of closed meeting of the Commission with the City Council.

Citizens of Waukesha are encouraged to come to the meeting of the Waukesha Water Utility Commission scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 20 at 5:30 pm. At the Water Utility Building, next to City Hall. Address the Commission, as is your right. City residents and customers need to be present at the start of the meeting. The first order of business is public comment. Make clear to the Commissioners that the public’s business is to be done IN PUBLIC.

Oh! About the budget. Remember the 17% increase in water rates that Mayor Nelson and his Water Utility Commission just put in place several months ago? Well, they are already planning another double digit increase which they discussed at the November meeting. The request for another big bite out of the ratepayers—probably in the area of 19%--will come at the end of 2008. Somebody has to pay the tab for the $300,000 for all those consultants they are going to hire beginning in two weeks.

Insist on an open discussion of these important matters. Make your opinion known.

The Public’s business must be done in public, not in secret.
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Of the biblical allotment of three score and ten I have lived only three of them more than a bicycle ride from one of the Great Lakes. I grew up ten blocks from Lake Erie in the (once Irish/Italian ghetto, now newly-hip) "Near West Side" of Cleveland. I can still cycle to the Milwaukee lakefront in an hour and a half; but, a round-trip has always been more than I would (noror ever did) attempt. -0- I'm a "...somewhat combative pacifist and fairly cooperative anarchist," after the example of Grace Paley (1922-2007). -0- I'm always cheerful when I pay my taxes (having refused--when necessary--to pay that portion of them dedicated to war). -0- And I always, always vote.